Stephen Friedman Gallery, 25-28 Old Burlington Street, London, W1S 3AN, London,
19 Dec 2010
Artist : Huma Bhabha
Title : Bumps in the Road
Date(s) : 2008
Dimensions : 153.7 x 168.3 x 203.8cm (60 1/2 x 66 1/4 x 80 1/4in)
Material : Clay, wood, wire, styrofoam, metal studs, acrylic paint, cast iron, burlap, newsprint, sand and ash,
Website : www.stephenfriedman.com
Credit : Images © the artist and courtesy of the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery (London) and Salon 94 (New York).
Huma Bhabha at Stephen Friedman review by Henry Little
There’s something primal about the smell of rough-hewn lumps of cork. Huma Bhabha’s triumvirate of faceless gods, tarred with black paint and carved coarsely, stand solemn in the front room of the gallery. This is the first of Bhabha’s solo exhibitions in the UK and one of three concurrent expositions of the artist’s work, the other two taking place in New York at Peter Blum Gallery and Salon 94. Where the American presentations separate Bhabha’s work by medium, however, (the former being devoted solely to two dimensional works and the latter to solely three dimensional), the Stephen Friedman show unites sculpture and two-dimensional work, vocalising a more complex proclamation from the artist.
Bhabha’s three untitled figures resonate across different eras, inconclusively referencing ‘primitive’ Oceanic sculpture and other styles found in anthropological museums. To the rear of the gallery, monkey faces in bright, saturated tones wear lunatic grimaces and startled gazes. These monkey grins are touchingly human, their eyes invigorated by the warmth and severity of tangible emotion. Confronting the viewer in expressionistic portraits, our genetic forefathers beg questions pertaining to evolution and the separation between man and beast. Like the cork personages, these drawings ambivalently recall a diaspora of art historical styles. One, with a thick lined, African mask inspired, Mademoiselles d’Avignon-esque face sits alongside another that echoes Jean Dubuffet or the caves at Lascaux. Although indefinite in their references, the common theme of ‘primitivism’ and a shared affinity with the ‘primal’ materialise. Indirectly we get a sense of Bhabha’s investigations into that imprecise moment at which beast becomes man. The thought that evolution could have taken different twists and turns along its uncertain route seems closer than ever.
Our evolutionary fate, the fate of the species, is a great source of creative speculation in popular culture. Themes from the next evolutionary step, to dystopian visions of post-apocalyptic civilisation are diverse and many. Bhabha’s Bumps in the Road (2008) presents a desecrated diorama populated with rubbish heap forms amidst a bleak, blackened landscape. As decaying relics of a decimated nation these assemblages conjure an array of associations. Like the sculptures on show at Salon 94, with their predilection for Styrofoam, this work could have been pieced together by evolving monkeys scavenging amongst the detritus of our society as it washes up on a far-flung shore. Bumps in the Road explores the latent potential of this packaging to suggest the architectural forms of a lost civilisation, hidden behind the eyes of a roughly crafted clay mask raised on stilts.
Complimenting these works are Bhabha’s painted photographs. In some, landscapes are transformed with deep crimson washes and ghostly clouds of ashen marks. Alongside, monkey-alien-humanoid busts gawp blindly. These palimpsests of overlaid imagery suggest our primitive selves as we painfully drew humanity from beast with violent consequences. Time ceases to be explored in a linear fashion and we are reminded that a return to the Stone Age might still lie in the future.
Ugo Rondinone, Sunrise East, Jardin des Tuileries, Paris, France